NEW YORK — As good as it has been this year, Iga Swiatek came to the US Open not knowing what to expect.
She complained that women use different, slightly lighter tennis balls than men at Flushing Meadows, where she had never made it past the fourth round. She was trying to get used to the noise and the distractions, the bustle of the Big Apple. And she came in just 4-4 since ending her 37-game winning streak in July.
None of that matters now. Solidifying her status as the new dominant figure in her sport by winning what is expected to be the final tournament of Serena Williams’ career, No. 1-ranked Swiatek outscored No. 5 Ons Jabeur 6-2, 7-6 (5 ) at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday to win his first US Open championship and third Grand Slam title overall.
“I didn’t expect much, especially before this tournament. It was such a tough time, you know? said Swiatek, who is 55-7 in tour-level games with seven trophies in 2022, the two best in the WTA.
“Obviously this tournament was really tough, too, because it’s New York. It’s so noisy. It’s so crazy,” she said. “I’m really proud that I was able to handle it mentally.”
Swiatek, like Jabeur, travels with a sports psychologist, and it took courage to complete this one. At 6-5 in the second set, Swiatek held his first championship point. Just before Jabeur served, Swiatek ran to the sideline to change rackets – an unusual choice at the time.
When action resumed, Swiatek missed a backhand. It could have been difficult to recover. Indeed, Jabeur pushed things to the tiebreaker, which she then led 5-4. But Swiatek got stronger, took the final three points and quickly accepted the silver trophy and a winner’s check for $2.6 million, joking, “I’m really glad it wasn’t cash. “
The 21-year-old Polish won the French Open in June for the second time and is the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to win two major titles in a single season.
“I really tried, but Iga didn’t make it easy for me. She deserved to win today,” said Jabeur, a 28-year-old Tunisian who will move up to second in the standings on Monday.
Smiling as he watched Swiatek, Jabeur told a supportive crowd, “I don’t like him that much right now, but it’s okay.”
Jabeur is the first African woman and the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final and was participating in her second in a row. But she is 0-2 at this point, including a second-place finish at Wimbledon in July.
“I know I’m going to keep working hard, and I know we’ll have this title soon,” Jabeur told his fans and support team, who wore black shirts with white writing that read “Yalla Habibi.” in Arabic. for “Let’s go, my love!”
Didn’t help that sunny 85-degree Fahrenheit afternoon that Jabeur needed to face Swiatek, who has won his last 10 finals — all in straight sets — and has been excellent from the get-go.
Jabeur didn’t face a single break point in her semi-final victory, but she was broken straight away when Swiatek laced a cross backhand on a short ball to cap a 15-shot rally.
Eight minutes later, Swiatek had grabbed 12 of the first 14 points for a 3-0 advantage.
Using his topspin forehand to take control from the baseline, Swiatek dictated the tempo and trajectory of the points. She ran her opponent this way and that, never letting Jabeur use the kinds of tricks and variety she’s used to.
When Jabeur showed some of what she could do, Swiatek was more often than not able to stretch the points. She used her strong coverage of the pitch, backed by a soundtrack of squeaky sneakers as she dashed around, sometimes even slipping when arriving at a ball, as one does on red clay, her favorite surface.
When Jabeur missed a forehand slice early in the second set, she dropped her racquet to reflect her desperation. A few points later, she threw her racquet as she was off balance and fell facedown. A running backhand shot from Swiatek on the next point made it 2-0 in that set. Swiatek raised his clenched fist and shouted, “Come on!”
Then Jabeur made it interesting, briefly.
But only briefly.
She came 4-all and, after finding herself on her back when an unbalanced backhand won a point in the next game, she stayed there, enjoying the moment, waving her fists while lying on the floor .
Jabeur got three break chances in this match, each of which would have allowed him to serve for the set. She couldn’t cash in there, though, missing a groundstroke on each.
Swiatek had to wait 10 minutes between her first match point and the one that closed the contest, but she made it. Maybe she will feel more comfortable at the US Open from now on.